On the morning of 31 October, guards at the Spanish prison of Soria found the Basque political prisoner José Angel Altzuguren, known as Kotto to his comrades, dead in his cell. Kotto, who was 39, had suffered from severe clinical depression, but had been placed in three different prisons within a week, denied access to a doctor and kept in solitary confinement. He finally hanged himself using bed-sheets. JUANJO RIVAS reports.
The Basque movement blamed the Spanish state’s appalling policy of ‘dispersing’ prisoners, and reacted by turning Kotto’s funeral into a political protest. Meanwhile, repression, criminalisation and phoney trials against youth, social movements and private companies continue, under the excuse of ‘fighting terrorism’.
Kotto was a member of Batasuna, the Basque left-wing nationalist party banned by Judge Baltasar Garzón. Like many other political activists, he was deliberately portrayed by the state as belonging to the periphery of ETA, and therefore when he was arrested on 23 March 2001, he was accused of ‘collaboration with an armed group’. After his arrest, Kotto reported that the police gave him blows to the head, ears and stomach, put a plastic bag over his head to suffocate him and used psychological torture.
On 7 January 2005, he was released on bail pending appeal. By then, he was suffering from serious depression and requiring medication and psychological and psychiatric support. However, without warning he was arrested again on 22 October and ordered to complete the remaining two years of the sentence. For the next nine days Kotto was kept in isolation, transferred from Iruñea prison to Zaragoza, and finally to Soria, and was at no time seen by a doctor.
The dramatic end to his life was followed, on the night of 31 October, by a mass march of remembrance and protest against the prison system. It finished with the police shooting in the air to disperse the crowd.
The Basque media reported the scandal of Kotto’s treatment and death and social and political movements called for events and protests. Kotto’s funeral in his hometown Bera (Nafarroa) was attended by thousands of neighbours and activists waving Basque flags with mourning ties attached to them. Batasuna spokesperson, Arnaldo Otegui, carried the coffin and spoke, denouncing Spanish state repression of prisoners. As the Spanish king, Juan Carlos I, is head of the Armed Forces, Otegui named him as ‘chief torturer’. Immediately, the Spanish prosecutors added new charges to his file, ones which could lead to an indeterminate prison sentence.
After the protests to remember Kotto, Basque political activism turned to the defence of the accused at the largest mass trial in recent history. On 21 November, the trial began of 56 people charged with being part of a network to financially aid ETA, and to represent ‘its political apparatus, media coverage and international voice’. The truth is that the accused are the leadership of a Basque youth group (KAS), the editors of a Basque newspaper, the members of a group in solidarity with Basque exiles and the owners of pubs where social events have been held. All these organisations and private companies were dismantled by repressive laws, between 1998 and 2001.
Source : FRFI 188 December 2005/January 2006